Illusory- The Yellow Brick Road

Quick- what’s the major conflict in “The Wizard of Oz”?

It’s not to meet the wizard.

“The Wizard of Oz” is an interesting piece of plotting because the major conflict of the story is possible to resolve within its first few pages.

Dorothy wants to go home, back to Kansas from the Land of Oz.

Within her first few minutes of arriving in Oz she is given the power to do so, but doesn’t realize this power until the end of the story.

The entire plot of “The Wizard of Oz” is one giant red herring.

Yet, when we talk about Oz or Dorothy, our most powerful image, our most firm grasp of what the tale is about is that long yellow brick road leading to a wizard both horrible and powerful.

An illusion.

Like so much else in the story.

Normally we have a hard time forgiving this kind of high-level red herring.

It is not often as a reader that we are pleased to be stalled so heavily in the pursuit of the story’s goal.

But this ignores a fundamental truth of both fantasy and ourselves.

The truth is, neither we nor Dorothy are there to return to Kansas.

Kansas is an inevitable destination, but it is not the path we are truly seeking.

We search for connection, for adventure, for the things that we miss within ourselves.

Kansas, grey and miserable and unforgiving, is a side note to the magic of walking.

Of traveling a path of gold to an unforeseeable future.

IMG_0198

 Sometimes the journey is the destination

This is a week about the role of illusions, plot, and puzzles in stories. Today’s entry brought to you by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Kansas described in the entry is purely metaphorical and not at all representative of existing Kansases.


If you want to see my own take on fantastical journeys, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.

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Illusory- Chekhov’s Gun

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Anton Chekhov

Do not write a gun you do not intend to fire.

Do not write a gun you are not using to distract from the true gun you mean to fire.

Do not write a gun that is not a distraction from the gun that is meant to be thought of as the true gun when you intend to fire a smaller gun off-stage.

Do not write a gun.

There is a choice when writing.

Is the focus to be on lush background, grounding but ultimately meaningless?

Is the story stripped to the core, every piece of toast, every opening door an integral piece of the plot?

Of course it is possible to use both, but it is every bit as important to remember the reader as it is to remember the gun above the mantle.

It is easy enough to read details as background.

There are many stories where it is possible to happily read the tale on the surface, never noticing when the guns fire, one by one.

It takes a different state of mind to look around the room, note the guns, note the lamps, note the half-chewed toy on the carpet and say, “I will remember these because they might be important.”

We need cues to realize that we are meant to do so, to not treat description as set decoration, but rather as the key to later events.

It is also possible in these cases to seed false cues, false points of distraction from the guns that are meant to fire.

This is where the styles of writing intersect. Whether or not cues are important, they should interlock. They should build a stable and understandable foundation and support structure for the story they illustrate.

Too many guns and fake-guns and fake-fake-guns and reading becomes a headache rather than a pleasure.

Guns that are propped obviously in front of the readers’ feet also distract from the building story.

Fire your gun.

Or don’t fire your gun.

But make sure that the gun builds a world or a story before the viewpoint shifts to the trajectory of a bullet.

IMG_0487Building the supporting structure of the story is as important as a fired bullet

This is a week about the role of illusions, plot, and puzzles in stories. Today’s entry brought to you by Chekhov’s Gun.


If you want to see how I apply Chekhov’s gun (note: no actual guns involved), my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.

 

 

Illusory- The Sky Pieces

I like jigsaw puzzles.

In the abstract.

Then there’s the moment where I dump a thousand pieces on my table-

-And realize that five hundred of them are pieces of sky.

It is tempting when constructing a puzzle to use sameness to baffle the solvers.

To distinguish small variations in the same is one of our most frustrating challenges.

We see this frequently visually, but it is also an insidious force in writing.

Any character who stands out too much, who displays divergent traits or personalities, becomes noticeable, recognizable, memorable.

How can characters like that be used for dramatic twists and revelations when readers are following their every movement with interest and anticipation?

If the clues aren’t hidden until the end, using characters that people are already watching makes it much harder to pull off the sleight-of-hand for a revelatory puzzle.

So either all of the characters become wildly over-the-top or the holders of secrets become bland or camouflaged in a larger crowd of sameness.

These are not the only options, of course, but often when I reach the end of a story’s twisting plot, I think of those sky pieces.

It is not that there is not a challenge in finding the right edges on five hundred pieces of blue.

It is that it is far more rewarding when everything has a point of interest and the cleverness of the puzzle relies on its construction rather than our boredom with sky.

I do not feel excitement when the secret villain is some unremarkable face in a sea of unremarkable faces.

I am excited by puzzles that present me a wealth of depth, of characters, of motivations, where my surprise is based on how much fills the sky rather than how little.

IMG_0026Let there be something other than five hundred pieces of blue

This is a week about the role of illusions, plot, and puzzles in stories.


If you are interested in my take on variety in puzzles, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.

Illusory- The Dog That Did Nothing

The first puzzle was a series of rings and wood and strings, meant to be detached from one another.

When someone showed me how it worked, it was the closest I had come to witnessing magic.

I’ve always wanted to capture some of that magic myself, in music, in art, in writing.

But something that has been deeply ingrained in my head, much like the careful explanation of removing those rings, is that a clever puzzle needs to also have a full set of clever clues.

It is not enough to reach the end of the story and announce the lengthy and fantastic path to the solution if we have not had the chance to witness that path ourselves.

There were many stories I read that had a brilliant climax but somehow all those clever turns and twists never made it to the page for me to try and solve as well.

It is my greatest regret with the tales of Sherlock Holmes.

We hear that Sherlock is clever.

We witness him saying clever things.

And…

We find out at the end the fabulous solution that he has found using fiendishly obscure clues methodically pieced together.

But we never have a chance to pit ourselves against him. We know that the dog did nothing in the night time, but we do not get the chance to observe those other pieces of evidence, those other careful movements towards a grander whole.

I loved my complete collection of those tales, but there was always a disconnect reading them. They were the stories I could hear at the fireside, not the stories that forced me into the center of the tale.

The more a plot relies on clever twists and conclusions, the greater the responsibility to share those steps, no matter how obscured.

Whether it is a mystery or a romance or a dissertation on the existential dissatisfaction of small marine sea squirts, the smoke and mirrors should always be penetrable by a careful reader.

The dog may do nothing, but the story must always provide something to lead us towards the exquisite murder of a man by the horse he tried to lame.

IMG_0579The view may be distorted, but the dog must be recognizable.

This is a week about the role of illusions, plot, and puzzles in stories. Today’s referenced story is Silver Blaze by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


For animals who do something, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor. It is available here.

Cover Reveal for “With Honor Intact”

It’s no secret to those of you who have been following my discussion of my influences that I love a particular style of old-school whimsical fantasy, with or without darker undertones. When I set out to get covers for my series, I wanted a style that reflected that kind of content. While there are many beautiful covers using striking photo-manipulation or typography, none of them had that John Tenniel taste I was looking for – fun, clean but with a vague air of mystery and menace. I am also someone who loves Art Deco and the incredible posters and marquees that were produced in the Twenties and Thirties. I thought that their use of optical illusions was an excellent fit for the theme of my series, “Tales from the Virtue Inn”.

Combining both of those styles has given me something that I think really captures the tale I am trying to write. I am very happy with the story that the covers tell and look forward to unveiling them for each of the five books in the series.

So it gives me a great deal of pleasure to present the cover for the second book of the “Tales from the Virtue Inn” series, With Honor Intact.

I hope that you are as drawn into the world of Virtue as I have been, through my writing and through these illustrations.

With Honor Intact Cover 11aThe Games have only just begun…

Honor Desry hadn’t applied to be the Innkeeper of a semi-sentient Inn with magical guests, but her sisters and her right-hand fox-man are making the job a lot sweeter. Unfortunately, the supreme Cat God has disappeared on Honor’s watch, and Honor’s old life is about to clash with her new life in a major way.

The Naked Glassblower’s Association has booked a Valentine’s special at the Virtue Inn, and Honor’s old boss and his partner are coming along to chaperone. Honor needs to find the Cat, keep the strange guests away from the supernatural guests, and somehow hold family and mind together.

But the Virtue Inn still hasn’t revealed all of its secrets and Honor will need to summon every last piece of her courage and cunning to save the day With Honor Intact.

Warning: Contains some violence, profanity, innuendo, and semi-sentient household objects.


If you’d like to be alerted when With Honor Intact comes out, you can sign up for my mailing list here. To read the first book in the series, you can find The Guests of Honor here. A huge thank-you to Kat’s Indie Book Blog who did a lovely writeup over here as well.

The Hollow Men

Take a razor blade to your imagery.

Slice out all the words that you think are clever, all the turns of phrase that make your ego purr.

See what you have left.

Create a world from it.

Description should be rooted in the gut as much as in the head.

Are the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end?

If they aren’t-

The words are still the soft scratch of small feet over broken glass.

We can’t all be T.S. Eliot.

Chances are good that our worlds will end in whimpers and not bangs.

But the greatest inspiration I have ever received is to strive for that moment.

The moment the words create a picture that you have never seen before, but that you cannot imagine not having seen.

The moment our hollow heads are filled not with straw, but the fire of living words.

IMG_0481The fuel for our fire doesn’t need to be conventional.

Housekeeping Note: I’m going to be doing a small cover reveal for With Honor Intact on Tuesday. If you liked the cover for The Guests of Honor, I think that you’ll really like the second cover. I’m very excited about this and if anyone wants to join in on the fun or just wants a high-res image of the second cover, feel free to drop me a line at catamesbury@gmail.com. I hope that you enjoyed the week of inspiration!


For my own fire-driven imagery, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor. It is available here.

Labyrinth

I do not do well with movies.

Movies sit on the border of visual over-stimulation for me.

The movies that I have not only watched but re-watched are those whose content has grabbed me so completely that the discomfort becomes irrelevant.

Some of these have rooted their way deep into the backbone of my creative inspiration, showing the power of the visual and the audible.

I first saw Labyrinth as an adult, years after it had been released, on a small television in an equally small apartment.

There is something about a creative vision that transcends cheesy ’80’s ballads, groan-worthy dialogue, and Very Special Pants to create something magical, something that skips the brain and cuts straight through to the gut.

I try not to dissect it.

Of all the things I love, I suspect that this would least stand up to cold scrutiny, to an analytical dissection of its pieces and parts.

All I know is that there was a powerful magic, beyond the humour, the less-than-perfect trappings.

Something that took me to another world and pulled me back time and again in a true escape from reality.

I do not know if that is something that can be bottled or quantified.

But like the Goblin King, I can only hope that I make you forget the clock in your pursuit of the magic I lay before you.

IMG_9921I have no peaches to offer, but my fruit has its own brand of magic

This is a week about inspirations, both obvious and otherwise.


For the strange fruit of my own inspiration, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor. It is available here.

The Middle of Nowhere

I grew up in quiet places.

While I have lived in cities and towns and small basement apartments with coaster-sized spiders, I am most comfortable and most happy where I can hear myself think.

There is something that sparks the current of creative electricity when I am miles from other voices, other stresses.

The smell of rotting wood, the soft buzz of small insects and muted bird calls, the press and scratch of deep moss against my ankles and my hands-

My head is clearest here.

In these spaces, I can slow down the thousand miles my brain travels every minute.

I can pull out the individual strands of colour and thought, rearrange them into something new and strange.

I am inspired by the sensation of the sun as a tangible hand stretching through the trees.

I am inspired by the opposite of the sound of a slamming door and footsteps retreating down the stairs into the night.

IMG_9169There is a unity in silence, a knowledge in an endless sky

This is a week about inspirations, both obvious and otherwise.


For the thoughts inspired by the silence, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor. It is available here.

 

Scheherazade

In another lifetime, I was meant to become a classical musician.

Life happened, in the way that it often does, and my path swerved sharply from that course.

I have never lost that bone-deep love for music.

In my own writing, the rhythm and melody lines are more obvious in my poetry, but make no mistake, my stories owe as much to Allegretto and Andante as they do to adjectives and apostrophes.

Because of the way my head processes sensory information, I’ve always had a more intense reaction to music than other people. It has always been mildly embarrassing to be frozen in place by a melody line or shivering because of the intensity and beauty of a well-built chorus.

It is why, if I am honest with myself, there are more pieces of music that have profoundly affected my life than any other type of creative work.

The first time I heard Scheherazade, I was playing it.

I was in the middle of a group of well-trained, but still inexperienced musicians trying to force their way through a rich, complex interplay of parts.

And I felt like I’d been struck by lightning.

I’d always felt some kinship with Scheherazade the character, her of a thousand stories with an overwhelming force driving her to tell them.

But that melody line…

It felt like someone had reached into my chest and pulled out my heart to display to the world.

I have always carried a trace of that song in the back of my head while I am writing.

I stand naked when I write, whether it is my tale or someone else’s.

All the best and worst parts of myself are spread through the voices I create and the melodies of plot and words.

I can only hope that the song I share carries its notes somewhere in the back of the brain, the bottom of the heart.

IMG_0461Beauty is the song that reaches for the sun beyond the clouds

This is a week about inspirations, both obvious and otherwise.


For the story that sings its own strange song, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor. It is available here.

 

 

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji

There is something about clean lines and imagery cut back to the bone that has always drawn my eye and my mind.

Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji is probably the best known of the ukiyo-e (floating world) woodblock painting collections. Even so, there are only one or two pictures from the collection that most people recognize outside of Japan.

I could say all this with a certain level of academic detachment. I could not draw the line connecting my first sentence with my second.

This is the problem with writing.

How can I tell you how that moment felt when in the hospital again, for something that would take years to diagnose, I first saw one of the Thirty-Six Views?

Hospitals are such a strange combination of sterility and over-stimulation. It is impossible to be comfortable and equally impossible to find distractions. When I saw those prints, it truly felt as if I was seeing a world that floated separate from the one I occupied, that drew me above the place around me.

The “floating world” is a reference to the ephemeral pursuit of pleasure, a world of the here and now, the moment before us.

The moment I tied this together with my strong reaction to those pictures shaped and shifted the way I share my own stories and tales of the moment.

Perhaps because of this, my favourite of the Thirty-Six Views is not the ever-popular “Great Wave off Kanagawa” but instead “Eijiri in the Suruga Province”.

In this painting I see the story I want to tell.

So many small clean lines suggesting a world of untold possibility, of words carried out of my reach and into the world beyond.

Eijiri in the Suruga Province (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Eijiri in the Suruga Province (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This is a week about inspirations, both obvious and otherwise.


For the words stripped to their marrow inspired by this painting, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor. It is available here.